4 Ways to Master Rapport-Building Skills in Sales

I have an acquaintance who is a genuinely nice person and gifted in their career but hasn’t had the type of success they imagined they would have (or befits their talent and dedication to the craft). For years, they’ve wondered why they’ve seen less gifted people win promotions, raises, etc. while they’re stuck in a rut.

Talking to them about it recently, we made the discovery that their body language caused people to have negative reactions towards them. More specifically, my friend had a habit of looking away and not making direct eye contact when talking to people. And that discovery has inspired this blog topic – how sales reps – even the most introverted – can learn and master sales rapport skills.

It starts with body language

There are very real psychological effects attached to our body language. In the case of my friend, not making direct eye contact expressed to the other person in conversation one of three things: 1) my friend thought they were superior, 2) my friend was social anxious or neurotic, or 3) my friend wasn’t prepared for the conversation.

None of these are good foundations to establishing rapport and building a relationship (in my friend’s case it was social anxiety – a common cause of direct gaze avoidance, as researchers found). So how can one address or solve these issues?

As it turns out, there’s a biomechanical solution: Lift your chin. When people look away, their chin sags. When they hold their chin up, the rest of the head is automatically forced up, including the eyes – ergo, direct eye contact naturally occurs. You can do this yourself right now. First look away and see if your chin drops. Then lift your chin and see what happens.

All the other admonishments we received from our parents hold true, too, for projecting confidence and building rapport: Straighten your back and shoulders – hunching and slumping project a defeatist air. Smile when you’re talking, even on the phone – it automatically brightens your voice. Relax your eyes – it reduces your physical tension and looks more natural.

Know things

Buyers value intelligent, prepared, and capable people – after all, the buying and selling process isn’t about finding your new BFF – it’s about finding someone who has the knowledge and skills to understand your problem and how to fix it. Thus, being thoroughly informed about the client, the vertical involved, and their needs is crucial to sales success (as well as how your products can serve as the right solutions).

Attendant to this: Research, research, research and prepare, prepare, prepare. In some ways, you want to approach every sales interaction with the open mind of someone doing it for the first time. While this might seem contradictory, it isn’t. In fact, keeping that mindset will prevent you from falling into comfortable, lax habits, assumptions, and prejudgments that could unwittingly affect your performance in negative ways.

Caveat: As you become an expert in your field, be careful to still meet the buyer at their level and in language and terms that they can understand. As we’ve noted in our discussion of Subject Matter Experts, becoming too technical during a presentation risks losing both the audience and the sale.

Hear what they’re saying

“Just because you’re listening to him doesn’t mean you’re hearing him.” – White Men Can’t Jump

“When people think you’re dying, they really, really listen to you instead of just…” “-Waiting for their turn to speak?” – Fight Club

We talk a lot about active listening on this blog and in our workshops. As the movie quotes above demonstrate, it’s critical that you listen to *hear* what buyers are saying, rather than just preoccupied with figuring out what you’re going to say next and waiting for your turn.

Not only does that demonstrate to the people you’re talking to that you’re paying attention to what they say and taking them seriously, it’s in their responses that you’ll find what to say next. And that’s especially valuable to those of us who don’t have quicksilver minds that can simultaneously process several different answers and evaluate their appropriateness while actively listening.

Enter with perfect truth

Contrary to what can be a stereotype, most sales people are honest. However, sometimes in a stressful situation or one that you’re not fully equipped to deal with – such as a curveball question – we can be tempted to hedge, give only a partially correct answer, or unintentionally say something that leads to a later misunderstanding.

To build rapport and your credibility, stick to absolute, pure truth. It means, when faced with something you don’t know the answer to, promising to find out that information and then follow through in delivering on that promise.

A note of caution here: Don’t mistake total honesty with bluntness. It’s important to be tactful and empathetic when you’re telling the truth. Frequently, that comes down to phrasing things in a way that respects the customer’s opinions, beliefs, and concerns. Even when those viewpoints are wrong, a thoughtful acknowledgement and re-stating of their position before gently redirecting and demonstrating where they’ve, for example, received incorrect information, is the best course of action.

Learning the art and science of developing rapport with a wide array of people can be a challenge – particularly for those whom communicating with others about business matters is uncomfortable. But paying attention to the details – physical, verbal, and psychological – will help you establish and hone your ability to build rapport with anyone you meet in your sales career.